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White v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington

June 25, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, [1] Commissioner of the Social Security Administration DEFENDANT


          David L. Bunning United States District Judge

         Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's eligibility for Social Security disability insurance benefits. (Doc. # 1). The Commissioner's determination was partially favorable, finding that Plaintiff became disabled on April 26, 2017, but was not disabled prior to that date. Plaintiff's appeal therefore “involves the disability onset date only, ” as Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner's determination “is incorrect in finding that Mr. White was not disabled prior to [April 26, 2017].” (Doc. # 14 at 1). The Court, having reviewed the record and the parties' dispositive motions, and for the reasons set forth herein, will deny Plaintiff's dispositive motion (Doc. # 14), grant Defendant's dispositive motion (Doc. # 18), and affirm the Commissioner's decision.


         On January 5, 2015, Plaintiff William B. White filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning on May 30, 2014. (Doc. # 1 at 2; Tr. 236). White was forty-seven years old at the time of filing; he alleged that he was unable to work due to, inter alia, heart problems; multiple orthopedic problems; lumbar radiculopathy problems; inability to ambulate effectively; arthritis, degenerative problems, and arthralgia; bilateral knee problems; fibromyalgia; gout problems; dizziness, vertigo, and syncope problems; peripheral neuropathy of his lower and upper extremities; edema problems of the lower extremities including his feet and ankles; morbid obesity problems; and psychological problems including depression and anxiety. (Tr. 99, 123, 240; Doc. # 14-1 at 3). His claims were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 86-98, 99-115).

         At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was conducted before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Thuy-Anh T. Nguyen on May 16, 2017. (Tr. 12, 32-85, 130). On September 29, 2017, ALJ Nguyen issued a partially-favorable decision, finding that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 8-25). However, ALJ Nguyen found that Plaintiff “was not disabled prior to April 26, 2017, but became disabled on that date and has continued to be disabled through the date of this decision.” (Tr. 12). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on March 20, 2018, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); (Tr. 1-5).

         Plaintiff filed this action on May 10, 2018, arguing that the ALJ erred as a matter of law by finding that Plaintiff's disability onset date was April 26, 2017, and not Plaintiff's claimed onset date of May 30, 2014. (Doc. # 1 at 6). This matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for adjudication. (Docs. # 14 and 18).


         A. Standard of Review

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is restricted to determining whether it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards. See Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 729 (6th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence” is defined as “more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). Courts are not to conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or make credibility determinations. Id.

         Rather, the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision, as long as it is supported by substantial evidence, even if the Court might have decided the case differently. Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999). If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's findings must be affirmed, even if there is evidence favoring Plaintiff's side. Listenbee v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 345, 349 (6th Cir. 1988). Similarly, an administrative decision is not subject to reversal merely because substantial evidence would have supported the opposite conclusion. Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 780, 781-82 (6th Cir. 1996).

         B. The ALJ's Determination

         To determine disability, the ALJ conducts a five-step analysis. Step One considers whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity; Step Two, whether any of the claimant's impairments, alone or in combination, are “severe”; Step Three, whether the impairments meet or equal a listing in the Listing of Impairments; Step Four, whether the claimant can still perform his or her past relevant work; and Step Five, whether a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520). The burden of proof rests with the claimant on Steps One through Four. Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). As to the last step, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to identify “jobs in the economy that accommodate [the claimant's] residual functional capacity.” Id. The ALJ's determination becomes the final decision of the Commissioner if the Appeals Council denies review, as it did here. See Thacker v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 16-CV-114, 2017 WL 653546, at *1 (E.D. Ky. Feb. 16, 2017); (Tr. 1-5).

         Here, at Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of May 30, 2014. Id. At Step Two, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: (1) congestive heart failure with pacemaker implantation; (2) history of aneurysm; (3) hypertension; (4) hypercholesterolemia; (5) dysfunction of the joints; (6) fibromyalgia; (7) obesity; (8) affective disorder; and (9) anxiety disorder. Id.

         At Step Three, the ALJ concluded that, during the relevant time period between the alleged onset date of May 30, 2014, and April 26, 2017, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 15). At Step Four, the ALJ found that between May 30, 2014 and April 26, 2017 (“the relevant time period”), Plaintiff possessed the residual ...

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